Tenancy Advice - Terminating or Restricting Services

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Tenancy Problems - Terminating or Restricting Services

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Q: Dear Sir,
My fiance and I have been living in a basement suite since May. The suite has always been a good temperature until recently with the cold weather (it's now december). The suite often is 16 degrees celcius when the heater is left off. The landlord has control of the heat and turns it off in the day (and they run it at night - the suite is then 20 degrees). Since I am a student and study all day in the suite often, I am forced to freeze or run many heaters (and still am quite cold as our little heater is not made for a whole suite). I was just wondering if there are any rules in BC as to what temperature an apartment should be kept at? I personally think that 16 degrees is unreasonable but maybe I'm overreacting? Thank you for your help.
A: In a house divided, which I assume yours is, control of the heat is a common complaint. The landlord has control of the thermostat and he tries to save money by turning it up and down to suit himself - not the tenants. Heat rises, which means that while the temperature in your basement suite is 16 degrees, the landlord is basking in a 20+ degree climate upstairs. The way this story goes is like this: the tenants request that the landlord turn up the heat, and he does for a bit. Then the landlord gets a hydro bill or gas bill and down goes the temperature again. The tenants request more heat, the landlord might respond, but eventually the tenants are literally 'chilling out' in the basement. The tenants soon tire of this game and one day discover the fuse box and/or circuit breaker panel is right there in the wall in their suite! Flipping off the switch when the landlord is watching his favorite TV program becomes an amusing recreational activity, and look at all the other switches there are to play with too!
I've seen situations where the landlord has only a couple of reliable electrical outlets left available to him, so he lives life with extension cords running in and out of every room in his part of the house - but he still won't turn up the heat. The tenant usually responds by denying the landlord access to the electrical panel, and pays for it with sub zero temperatures. Pretty soon the landlord and tenant are communicating by registered mail, shouting obscenities through the walls, and pounding brooms on the floor and walls at irregular intervals and odd hours. It actually is very amusing if you don't have to live with it yourself.
Your question brings to mind one case I heard where the landlord had the gas cut off because the bill was too high. The tenants tried to keep warm through the fireplaces; they burned every available stick of firewood on the property. When they ran out of firewood, they started dismantling and burning the cupboards, wood trim and moldings too. They even went so far as to burn every second stair on a staircase, which I found creative in that the tenants could still get up and down the stairs by taking giant steps.
For advice I recommend that you write your landlord a letter detailing what you are complaining of and why. Ask that the situation be remedied. If the landlord still declines to keep the premises at a decent temperature, start looking for a new place to live and buy yourself another little ceramic heater for the meantime. Take this as a warning too that if the landlord is saving nickels and dimes on the heat by keeping you in the cold, he'll also probably be making a play for part or all of your security deposit when you do move.


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